This is an exciting and challenging phase for you and your baby as you face two kinds of transitions: (1) making the switch from breast or formula to cow's milk and (2) shifting from drinking from bottle to drinking from cup (open and straw).
Encouraging this shift in babies is very important, as it helps them develop essential oral motor skills and instills healthy drinking habits that will benefit them in the long run.
This article is mainly for parents who bottle feed formula or breast milk.
- Recommended guidelines suggest introducing an open or straw cup for babies post 6 months.
- It’s good to completely phase out your baby’s bottle usage between 12 and 14 months.
- By year 1, most babies have developed the necessary hand-eye coordination and oral motor skills required to hold and drink from a cup, which helps this transition.
Today, we'll explore how to make this transition as smooth as possible for both you and your little one. The aim of this article is not to overwhelm or stress you out; please look at it as a parent’s guide for information.
Why Should Babies Transition from Bottle to Cup?
The transition from bottle to cup is a significant milestone in your baby's growth journey. The potential risks listed below are just that; they’re “potential” and not a “given,” so don’t think that this will absolutely happen with your baby.
Every baby's journey is different, and your (the parent’s) experience will also be different. Many babies continue bottle usage beyond the age of 1, and this is perfectly fine. Trust your instincts and do what feels right for you and your little one! You’ve got this.
Let’s look at the reasons why babies should transition from bottle to open/straw cup.
1) Dental issues: Prolonged bottle use can lead to tooth decay or an increased risk of cavities, particularly when babies fall asleep with a nighttime bottle. Because their teeth or gums are constantly soaked in the milk, babies may face discomfort or difficulties in eating and sleeping.
2) Excessive milk consumption: Using the bottle for an extended period may result in babies drinking too much milk. Why is this a bad thing?
- Babies may fill up on milk, leaving no room for nutritious solid foods. This can lead them to associate "hunger" solely with the bottle.
- They might miss out on essential nutrients found in solid foods. While milk is nutritious, it doesn't provide all the nutrients necessary for a baby's optimal growth and development.
- Too much drinking of milk can hinder iron absorption, potentially causing iron deficiency in your baby.
3) Picky eating habits: Relying on the bottle for an extended period can contribute to future picky eating habits. Babies may keep favoring milk over solid foods.
4) Oral motor delays: Experts, including dentists, occupational therapists, and speech therapists, recommend weaning babies off the bottle before they reach the age of 2. Continuing bottle use can lead to speech delays and issues with tooth alignment.
Babies tend to use a "suckle" motion with the bottle, which they are born with so they can feed from a breast or bottle. However, as they grow and start eating solid foods, they need to develop more advanced oral motor skills, including chewing, managing food in their mouths, and drinking from a regular cup.
Extended bottle usage can hinder the development of these essential skills and lead to speech delays.
5) Weight concerns: Research shows a link between bottle use and childhood obesity. Every additional month of bottle use is associated with a slight increase in the risk of childhood obesity (because of excessive milk intake)
As babies get older, they may resist more strongly in giving up the bottle. This can make it tougher for parents. So, it’s a good idea to start earlier if possible.
Preparing Your Toddler for the Change
Starting at 1 year, your baby is having to learn two important transitions: switching from formula to cow's milk and moving from a bottle to a cup. Many parents really struggle with the bottle-to-cup transition because babies are attached to their bottles and may not want to give them up.
1) Start when your baby is 6 months old. Let them practice drinking from an open cup and a straw cup. This helps them learn how to use these cups. When it's time to switch from a bottle to a cup, they'll already have the skills they need.
2) Let your child choose their straw and open cup. It can have their favorite character or be in their favorite color. Make them excited and part of the process. Tell them they're becoming a big boy or big girl, and now they get to drink from a big boy or big girl cup!
3) When it's time to say goodbye to the bottle, encourage your baby to put it away by symbolically “throwing it away” (you can of course save it and keep it out of their sight). Encourage them by spinning a positive take like: "Now, let's say bye-bye to the bottle, so you can use your big boy/big girl cup every time. You’re doing so well with it!"
Two Methods for Making the Transition
When your baby switches from a bottle to a cup, don’t worry if they drink less than before. In fact, that's what we want – to reduce their daily milk intake.
There are two methods you can use to help your baby with this transition. You can choose either method, use them together, or try them one after the other. There's no one-size-fits-all approach, so go with what works best for you and your baby.
Method 1: Dropping one bottle at a time
This is a gradual approach. Instead of stopping bottle use all at once, drop one bottle or reduce the amount of milk in each bottle.
- For example, if your baby has 3 bottles a day, continue with 2 bottles and replace the third with a cup.
- The first bottle of the day or the second one is usually the easiest to stop.
- Praise your baby when they drink from the cup (“Look who’s a big boy/girl drinking from their big boy/girl cup! Way to go!”), so it’s a rewarding experience for them.
- Be consistent and gradually increase cup usage while reducing bottle times.
- The last bottle to go is often the nighttime one, which can be the hardest. Try offering milk in a cup during dinner and don't offer anything before bed. Offer extra comfort as needed.
Method 2: Offering less tasty milk in the bottle
This method is for babies who are very attached to their bottle.
- Mix water with the milk in their bottle to dilute the taste.
- Start with 25% water and 75% milk, then switch to 50%-50%, then 75% water and 25% milk, and eventually just 100% water in their bottle.
- Simultaneously, offer your baby a straw cup or open cup with whole milk during mealtimes instead of a formula or breast milk bottle.
- This way, your baby drinks more from the straw or open cup and reduces their milk consumption from the regular bottle. Remember, the goal is for babies over 1 year to get most of their nutrition from solid food and less from milk.
(This dilution method is not meant for babies under 1 year.)
Ending the Nighttime Bottle Habit: Why & How
As discussed earlier, it's not advisable for babies to fall asleep with a bottle in their mouth, as this can lead to cavities and tooth decay. Instead, try this approach: have your baby sit on your lap or on the bed to enjoy their milk before bedtime. Afterward, you can rinse their mouth or offer a few sips of water before they drift off to sleep.
Your baby will seek extra comfort, love, and soothing during this transition as they may miss their nighttime bottle. Don’t hold back! Offer them comfort, snuggles, and enough affection as they want. Some babies may have a favorite toy that gives them comfort. As time goes by, they will gradually miss the bottle less and adjust to this new routine.
Tips for Parents & Caregivers
1) Be consistent and stay the course regardless of the approach you choose. Trust your instincts and find what works best for your baby's routine.
Transitioning from the bottle can be a challenging journey, and there will be moments of frustration. Babies might cry, throw tantrums, or resist the change, and it can be emotionally draining for parents. Keep in mind that this is a temporary phase and try to be kind to yourself. You're doing your best!
2) Celebrate every small success, not only your baby's but also your own. Even if your baby takes just a couple of sips from their new cup, it's a significant achievement. Don't hesitate to express your praise and excitement.
3) Be descriptive and exaggerated in your praises and compliments when your baby accomplishes a positive action. This motivates them and encourages them to repeat the behavior, as they anticipate your positive and affectionate response.
4) Avoid feeling guilty. Progress can be slow at times, and that's perfectly okay. Give yourself time, and things will improve.
5) If your baby is still struggling with the transition and you're not sure why, investigate any underlying causes. Perhaps your baby wasn't hungry or was too tired or sleepy when you offered the milk. They might also be under the weather. Try again later, as the reason for their resistance may not solely be related to the bottle or cup.
6) Whenever possible, involve everyone, from family members and siblings to nannies and daycare providers, to help encourage this new skill in your baby. When you work together as a team, it eases the burden, especially for mothers.
7) For guidance on which straw/open cup is suitable for your baby, refer to this earlier Slurrp It Up article.
8) With older toddlers, you can introduce a Reward Chart to encourage them in this transition. When they don't ask for a bottle or successfully drink milk from a straw or open cup, give them a sticker. Keep a weekly chart for a few weeks to motivate them! Toddlers may find stickers to be exciting rewards in themselves. Or you can reward them by singing their favorite song, telling them a fascinating story, or giving them warm cuddles after they achieve a few milestones successfully.
As a parent, you need to be very patient and give your baby lots of chances to adjust. Even if it seems hard at first, your baby will learn to use a cup. Don't get discouraged; keep trying, and things will get better over time!